At this summer's San Diego Comic-Con International, the Pop Culture Anti-Bullying Coalition founders Chase Masterson and Carrie Goldman led a panel of experts with a range of advice and personal stories to tell. Some of us know Chase best from her years acting on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Carrie as the mother of Katie "the Star Wars girl." Not long ago at a school maybe too close for comfort, kids teased Katie for loving Star Wars, which some of them said was just for boys. “Is this how it starts?” Carrie wondered. “Do kids find someone who does something differently and start to beat it out of her, first with words and sneers?” Writing about the experience online, she touched off an outpouring of support from people from many walks of life, not just celebrities but thousands upon thousands of others who knew how Katie felt or empathized with her in other ways.
Bullying is a complex problem that, regardless of one piece of advice I received during my own childhood, does not always go away by ignoring it, and it involves a much wider range of behaviors than many people realize. Simply getting away with bullying can make it self-reinforcing, which makes it more resistant to extinction (dying out through lack of rewards or associated stimuli) than a lot of other actions.
Anybody who wonders why I've started talking about bullying lately in a column on heroes and villains really needs to think twice. To me, the connection is obvious, maybe even too obvious because I'm not simply lumping all bullies into the category of villains or vice-versa. Villainy is more complicated than that, and the issue concerns heroism, too. When we talk about developing strategies to create witnesses and allies out of bystanders, we're talking about finding heroes in the people right in front of us.